Censorship: Not Good for Kids
I was wandering through the book store a few weeks ago with my kids. We were looking for books that I could read out loud to them. There was a teenager in the isle with us, and somehow I managed to get into a conversation with him. Through the course of talking about books he revealed that his parents forbade him from reading certain books and watching certain movies. We talked about that a little, and I found out that his parents are so strict that he isn’t allowed to read some classic novels because they are too violent or are about war. We specifically talked about “Heart of Darkness” which is not about war or, specifically, death (I wonder if his parents had ever read it). I told him that the movie, Apocalypse Now, was an interpretation of the book and that he could get a good idea of the book by watching the movie (I should have known he wouldn’t be allowed to see the movie either). The kid had never heard of the movie, Marlon Brando, or Martin Sheen, and he was only vaguely aware that there was ever a war in Vietnam (not to mention any history of south east Asia). This little encounter got me thinking about censorship and parental responsibility when it comes to educating our kids through movies and books.
I censor certain things from my kids, but not much. It is more important to teach kids than to protect their sensibilities. The teenager in the book store only solidified my resolve to be an educator first and a shield second. If anybody gets to be a teenager and knows nothing about classic movies or the Vietnam War then their parents were abject failures. It doesn’t matter if there is war and death and sex and crime. It matters that there is a world out there that is not full of pixies and unicorns, a world which is required learning.
It is amazing to me that some parents cannot distinguish between gratuitous violence or sex and scenes that convey a deeper meaning through visualizations. Two movies that come immediately to mind are Gladiator and 300. Gladiator used violence and war as a vehicle to drive a love story. It’s a worthwhile lesson that can easily apply to real life and that is a valuable image for kids to carry with them. 300, on the other hand, is visually impressive but contains almost no redeemable lesson. The history is flawed, and the battle scenes are comical (as they should be considering the source). My kids don’t have any reason to be subjected to violence for the sake of violence. There are other movies that teach valuable lessons despite their graphic nature. Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, and Unforgiven are but a few.
My kids, and I suspect most kids, are smarter and tougher than we sometimes give them credit for. Both of my boys are Star Wars enthusiasts. They have all the little toys and action figures along with light sabers and costumes. They have seen the movies dozens of times and regularly pretend they are Anakin and Obi-Wan fighting around the house. I was just kidding with them when I said, “Be careful not to chop each other in half with those light sabers!” Neil turned to me and said “Daddy! Don’t be stupid. It’s just a movie, it isn’t real!” Ah, well, no kidding! My kid is actually well balanced and can tell the difference between reality and fiction.
Life is all about learning. There are things in the world which are somewhat unsavory and that might be tough to accept. I do not believe the proper course of action is to shield kids from reality. Kids who are hidden away from the world for too long will not be able to digest it all when the flood gates finally open. They will be naïve and uneducated. Quality movies, like quality books, are artistic expressions of the emotions we all carry with us. Kids who are exposed to quality art are thus better able to express their own emotions. They are well balanced individuals who can distinguish between fantasy and fact.